24 June 2019

The unbroken dream of a better life in the city


At the beginning of the last century the cities of Europe had a different appearance than today. In those days many workers had to work up to 17 hours a day, their numerous children up to 12 hours. The money they earned was only enough for food if they were lucky. Most city dwellers were living in precarious circumstances during this time. Many emigrated and tried their luck elsewhere. Great hopes often lay in emigration to America.

First apartment buildings were built in the cities of Europe.
Illness and death were permanent guests there.

Many people were now living in apartment buildings. The first apartment buildings with several floors in Germany were built up in Berlin.

The many children played in the narrow backyards on the street. The apartments were so hopelessly cramped that illness and death were permanent guests. There was no car traffic like today. However, the streets of the big cities were still busy: with carriages and coaches.

The cities with the highest number of inhabitants in Germany were Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and Dresden. London was the largest city in Europe with 4,5 million inhabitants. At that time, most people lived in the countryside. However, more and more of them moved to the city searching for better living conditions, which soon reversed this relationship.

Even today, cities are still the driving force behind interests, exchanges, innovations, hopes and conflicts.

The advancing urbanization divides the world – into few rural and many urban people. Cities are becoming the dividing line between different milieus. The rise in the cost of living within cities means that increasingly only high earners can afford housing.

Those who have less money are being pushed out of the city and into the countryside.

Paradoxically, it is the less affluent who have to bear high mobility costs – usually one car for each family member – because environmentally friendly mobility is reserved for cities.

Cities are the global living space of the future.

According to United Nations forecasts, almost 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. “Quality of life” is the magic word of this trend, which continues unabated and will create an enormous imbalance in the global structure.

Urban agglomerations will face desolate regions, as people continue to move to metropolises in search of quality for their lives in the form of work, prosperity and self-realisation.

Cities today are highly complex structures of layers and structures that are interwoven and interdependent. They are development centres and test laboratories, giving birth to megatrends.

In Germany, around 75 percent of the population lives in cities or conurbations. In a historical comparison, the change becomes very apparent. In 1800, about a hundred years before the beginning of urbanization, the figure was only 25 percent. At that time, most people still lived in the countryside.

Before industrialization, cities had the appearance of medieval centres of action and have since grown into modern locations for production and logistics. As the home of the creative class, they still occupy first place.

Building on without land loss.

The move into the city means immense challenges for infrastructure and existing buildings. How to continue building and offer the residents living space? More and more “post-compacted” buildings are being built, i.e. on old buildings because there is no more space for new buildings. There is talk of hybrid use – as in Tokyo – where residential extensions are made to flat roofs, multi-story car parks and buildings of all kinds.

The city as a gluttonous burden on the environment

In terms of surface area, cities cover only two percent of the earth’s surface but consume 75 percent of the energy required worldwide and produce 80 percent of all greenhouse gases.

The city as a place of collaboration – bottom up instead of top down.

Citizens who grew up with the Internet are increasingly living in cities. Sharing, bartering and participating are part of their everyday lives. The increasing networking of people also influences urban life. Assemblies, car-sharing models, urban gardening, co-working spaces are all urban ideas and models.

With ever smaller assets in the city’s coffers, the importance of residents as active urban designers is becoming ever more important. They are crowd funders, found start-ups and start cultural projects. In the process, they also become designers of their cities.

Cities with lots of grey hair

For Germany, the Federal Statistical Office predicts that over 30 percent of the total population will be 65 years and older by 2050. The city will have to adapt to this number of elderly people who demand quality of life. Completely new supply and mobility concepts will emerge. The city will have to shape itself in a way that care and service will continue to be possible regardless of physical or mental impairment.

Silver flat-sharing communities

Nobody likes to be lonely! This is why completely new forms of living will establish themselves in the cities. Integrative houses for young and old, offering opportunities for exchange and contact. Shared flats for older people who support each other – a lot is conceivable. One thing is certain: these old people do not want to retire. They are fitter than generations before them and full of energy demand a life with content even in old age. Already today one can observe that they become the target group for the advertisement.

So many years lie between the urban past and the urban future. The world has turned and changed. Some urban problems have been solved, new ones have been added and some are unsolved – such as cramped living space.

Housing and space – there are many in the countryside.

Against this background, it is not surprising that there is the utopia of the village with the luminosity of a city.

Is that possible – rural life – with the quality of life and the possibilities of a city? What are the prerequisites for a counter-trend to urbanization? What is necessary to draw creative and energetic people back – to the villages?

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